(Action/Comedy) A young woman marries a dying senior member of a martial arts family in order to protect her familys fortunes, leading to a duel with a greedy relative.
"You made me a cripple, so I'll make you a cripple, too," sneers charismatic swordplay superstar Wang Yu, clutching his severed member, in this 1967 classic of manly suffering and bloodshed. Because of its implacable-revenge motif, and its extended training sequences, this is sometimes cited as the first true martial arts movie--a transitional film between the old-school swordplay and the contemporary kung fu genres. Whatever you call it, it is easily one of the most influential Asian action movies ever made. A master of long-sword fighting techniques, Wang loses an arm in the early innings. (It is hacked off by the woman he loves.) In order to exact payback, he has to master the unfamiliar short-sword style, using the stump of his symbolically shattered blade. Meanwhile, enemies of the long-sword school have invented a sneaky "sword-clamp" device and deploy it against the good guys. Issues of fighting style and discipline are central; one technique trumps another, and the hero triumphs because, driven by rage, he practices more obsessively than his foes. This is a lean, effective piece of genre craftsmanship from the great director Chang Cheh, finally available in the U.S. in a letterboxed version that gives his shapely widescreen compositions a fair shake. --David Chute